About the value of reading

by Renate Dünki

cc. Why do we actually need a new reading book? Compile and publish a reading book while there are already so many others? What is it all about? Is it about further training of readiness? Is it about better distinguishing between true and false contents? Is it about … media competency?
The new reading book that we are presenting now, “Mein liebstes Lesebuch. Geschichten, Rätsel und Verse für die zweite Klasse” (My favourite reading book. Stories, riddles and verses for the second grade) – addressed to teachers as well as to the family – sets its accents differently. It addresses the emotional attachment among each other and a close connection with nature. To create a reading book requires comprehensive knowledge on how to raise the motivation to read during the first school years, which developmental-psychological steps are appropriate to which age, which methodological-didactic steps are useful, and much more. The authors of the new reading book as experienced pedagogues succeed in bringing together modern and traditional reading-book didactic approaches in a meaningful and competent way. Thus a reading book is available again that starts from where the child is and introduces it into our complex world without losing sight of suitability for children or today’s social context.

Reading has a much more comprehensive value than the currently much-cited media-competency. It is not just about the ticking of right or wrong information out of texts (PISA). Reading means to address the whole person, to see his point of view within the family or the community. It is about the education of young people. Thus, it is also seen in a broader sense: “The promotion of the general popular education and of republican civic education is a matter of the state” (Zurich Cantonal Constitution, Art. 62, ed. 1971). The primary and secondary school is “a place of general humanistic education […]. True humanistic education, however, does not manifest itself exclusively in knowledge and ability; their characteristic feature lies in the harmony of a more sincere inner life and behaviour, always oriented towards the good of the whole and never needs to shun the light.” (Curriculum for the primary and secondary school of the Canton of Zurich, purpose article, version 1971)
This comprehensive goal of education also corresponds with the formulations of today’s cantonal law of primary and secondary school. They are emphasising the educational and upbringing task of the primary and secondary school. How can the school convey values of a peaceful coexistence in a democracy, if not in the classroom?
“The primary and secondary school educates to a behaviour which is based on Christian, humanitarian and democratic values. Doing so, it preserves freedom of belief and conscience [...]. The primary and secondary school encourages respect for others and for the environment, and strives for a holistic development of the children to independent and socially qualified people […]. It promotes in particular, willingness to take responsibility, willingness to perform, capability of judgement and criticism, as well as dialogue capability.” (Law of primary and secondary school, Canton of Zurich, § 2, 2005) The primary and secondary school educates children “to responsible human beings and citizens according to the principles of democracy, freedom, and social justice within the framework of a constitutional state.” (Law of primary and secondary school, Canton of St. Gallen, Art. 3, 1983)
Teachers therefore have a great responsibility towards the children and parents, but also to society. At lower grades from the beginning of school, it is already their task to select texts that support and promote basic values of our democracy with empathy, affinity, respect, and sense of responsibility. Parents have a right to be able to rely on this educational tradition of the primary and secondary school for their children, and the obligation to demand it.

A reading book emerges

A working group of experienced primary teachers and teachers for children with special needs has decided to consider these educational goals in their reading book. The work group has sighted fields of topics from existing reading books of different cantons, attuned them to today’s world if necessary, or seized as a suggestion. The contents of the reading book focus on the value of coexistence in the family, school, and commune. The children receive a book, which can be a basis for common reading and the dialogue in the class or the family, which also provides enough reading material, and allows teachers and parents a choice. It is supposed to be a book for keeping and loving, away from texts that are forgotten in two or three weeks or have not ever been really understood.
In this spirit, we would like to wish you a lot of pleasure in the newly discovered respectively adapted or newly written treasures of this reading book for the first reading.    •
(Translation Current Concerns)